Believers from Astrakhan during one of the court hearings held via video conferencing (2022)

Unjust Verdicts

The Court of Cassation Slightly Softened the Brutal Conviction of Four Jehovah's Witnesses From Astrakhan

Astrakhan Region

Text updated February 24, 2023

On December 22, 2022, the Fourth General Jurisdiction Court of Cassation, presided over by Judge Rustem Asanov, insignificantly reduced the sentence on believers Rustam Diarov, Sergey Klikunov and Yevgeniy Ivanov, sentenced to 8 years in a penal colony, and Olga Ivanova (wife of Yevgeniy), sentenced to 3.5 years in a penal colony. Now, after serving their sentence, they will be able to choose a settlement for residence, but they will be banned from leaving it. Previously, they were forbidden to leave Astrakhan.

The rest of the verdict was left unchanged, and the cassation appeals were not satisfied. The state prosecutor requested to toughen the punishment, and only verbally, without stating this in written objections to the cassation appeal. The session of the Court of Cassation was held via video-conferencing. Believers participated in the hearings while in the colonies.

In fact, the court found Astrakhan residents guilty of extremism because they believe in Jehovah God. In itself, being part of the international canonical structure of Jehovah's Witnesses, including believers organized in different groups all over the world, which the Russian Supreme Court had not assessed or declared extremist, does not constitute a crime.

In his cassation appeal Yevgeniy Ivanov stressed the absurdity of the charges against him: "The verdict and the appeal decision do not contain any extremist statements, especially those aimed at inciting enmity and hatred." His lawyer also noted: "Yevgeniy was found guilty of a crime against the foundations of the state and state security, although Jehovah's Witnesses are politically neutral, and he is not a socially dangerous person." "All the witnesses questioned in the case indicated that there were no signs of extremism in my words, actions and motives," added Sergey Klikunov.

A recent decision of the European Court states that "believers demonstrate their desire to adhere strictly to the teachings of the religion they profess, and their right to do so is guaranteed by Article 9 of the European Convention" (§ 172).

Case of Ivanov and Others in Astrakhan

Case History
In June 2020, the investigation in Astrakhan opened a criminal case against Sergey Klikunov, Rustam Diarov, Yevgeniy Ivanov and his wife, Olga under under an article against extremism. A series of searches took place the next day. After that, the four believers were placed in custody. After 3 days, Olga Ivanova was transferred to house arrest. From June 2021, the case against the believers was heard in court. The court sentenced Yevgeniy, Sergey and Rustam to 8 years in a penal colony, and Olga to 3.5 years a penal colony. The court of appeal upheld this decision in February 2022, and 10 months later, the court of cassation even toughened the punishment, adding a ban on the believers from leaving Astrakhan after serving their sentence. In June 2024, Olga Ivanova was released.
Timeline

Persons in case

Criminal case

Region:
Astrakhan Region
Locality:
Astrakhan
Suspected of:
According to the investigation, "they continued to organize meetings, knowingly knowing that its activities were banned ... They carried out propaganda of the superiority of religious teachings over other persons and were engaged in the distribution of extremist literature."
Court case number:
12002120011000010
Initiated:
June 8, 2020
Current case stage:
the verdict entered into force
Investigating:
Investigative Directorate of the Investigative Committee of the Russian Federation for the Astrakhan Region
Articles of Criminal Code of Russian Federation:
282.2 (1), 282.3 (1), 282.2 (2)
Court case number:
1-201/2021
Court:
Трусовский районный суд г. Астрахани
Judge:
Алексей Сёмин
Case History